When purchasing a property, it pays to investigate the history of the buildings on the land. If there are no records of building consents having been issued by the council, then at best the buildings may have been constructed without council approval and may not comply with the building code. At worst, they may be dangerous for use and occupation.

Background To The Building Consent Process

The Building Act 2004 (“the Act”) governs all building works in New Zealand. It states that such work must comply with the building code. The code is made up of regulations which prescribe the functional requirements for buildings and the performance criteria they must comply with for their intended use.

Before undertaking building work, the owner of the property needs to obtain approval from a building consent authority. In most cases, the building consent authority is the local council. Council approval for building work is known as a “building consent”.

Once construction is complete, the council will inspect the work to ensure compliance with the conditions of the building consent and the building code. If the council approves the work, then it issues a code compliance certificate.

Under the Act, it is an offence  to  carry  out  any work that is  not  in  accordance with the terms of the building consent.  Also, until such time as a code compliance certificate has been issued, it is an offence to occupy the building.

What Happens When Building Work Has Been Done Without A Building Consent?

Building consents cannot be issued retrospectively. However, if the work has been completed and a building consent was required but not obtained, then an application to the council for a “certificate of acceptance” may be made. This involves the council inspecting the work to determine if it complies with the building code. If it does, then it may issue a certificate of acceptance. However, such a certificate cannot be issued if the building work was carried out prior to 1992 as the building code was not in existence prior to that date.

It is not uncommon to come across properties where the buildings on the land have been constructed with a building permit or consent but the work has either never been completed, or if it has, the council has not approved it. If the work was carried out prior to 1 January 1993 and provided that the building is not “dangerous” or “unsanitary” as defined in the Act, then the council cannot take any action to require the owner to complete the work in accordance with the original building permit.

LIM Reports

The best way to check that there are no unauthorised buildings on a property is to obtain a Land Information Memorandum (known as a “LIM report”) before you buy it. This includes a summary of all records held by the council in relation to the property including details of building permits, consents, code compliance certificates and certificates of acceptance. It is worth remembering that although the absence of permits or consents may not pose a problem while you live in the property, it may well become a problem once you decide to sell it. For that reason, a LIM report is money well spent. It could save you a great deal more at a later date.